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Posted on: Friday, November 7, 2008 by Rajiv Popat

When acquaintances and distant relatives strike a conversation with me in parties and during these discussions want to know what it is that I do for a living, I tell them that I read, talk, listen and besides doing all of that, I write. The reply often results in a confused acquaintance or an even more confused distant family member looking at me like I am an alien with a third eye when in-fact I'm just passing Zen-line statements that you would usually hear from Yoda.

I am no-where close to being as insightful as Yoda but labeling myself as a programmer, project manager, technical architect or any fancy designation sounds like an incorrect introduction of my true self.

When I'm not reading, talking and listening to others in development teams, 'writing' describes what I do rather well:

  1. I write code.
  2. I write about code.
  3. I write about my experiences with reading, talking and listening to others.

Of course, this blog reflects my love for reading, talking, listening to others and writing. Going ahead I'll be exploring my love for all of these activities using stories with lessons to learn both from projects that I've worked on and the ones I've witnessed or seen from the outside. These are stories from my past with a fictional sugar coating and no direct names of organizations, clients or individuals.

Most of these stories will be real with a fictional coating. Others will be completely fictional with real lessons. I will weave and knit words to confuse you just so that you don't find out what's real and what's not; but my intent isn't evil here. The intention is to share with you, dear reader, lessons learnt during my software development career in ways that are exciting and fun.

We will, for the sake of creative imagination use a few common characters and personas in all the stories that we publish on this blog from this point on. This post is about describing some of those personas and laying down the basic framework for the stories and posts to come.

Multiplitaxion Inc.

Multiplitaxion Inc, is a fictional company where things just don't seem to go right. The name, as usual, was suggested by my very smart nephew when he was first taught multiplication. The guy had mastered the idea of multiplication rather well and could multiply numbers decently well; but there was a 'little' bit of a problem. He was having a hard time pronouncing multiplication; so he came up with Multiplitaxion. The name was way too cool to be wasted. That's when Multiplitaxion Inc, was born.

The idea of Multiplitaxion Inc, was inspired by three different sources.

  1. Lots of Organizations - During a point of time in my career I was hopping from one client office to other and visiting multiple so called big software development houses. I was realizing one thing; The bigger they were the bigger their stupidities were. There were a very few who were maintaining the magic touch of small but most of the bigger organizations were hugely big even when it came to their stupidities.
  2. Office Space - This was a comedy that a colleague of mine introduced me to. The movie had a fictional organization called Initech; which was a pretty funny representation of the kind of stupidities that happen in a huge number of software development shops.
  3. The Poster - I remember a conference room where project status was analyzed and decisions for future versions were taken; I remember a single conference which continued for a very long time where I was barely close to catching my zzzzz, hardly ever spoke and kept staring that this poster on the wall.

You would think that anyone with the common-sense and sense-of-humor to stick a poster of this sort in the conference room would be careful about the stupidities they would indulge in. However, I sat in the conference room, waiting for a very lengthy meeting to finish, where everyone involved tried to freeze the requirements for the next version followed by a finger pointing exercise of why the first version didn't meet all the requirements. I sat there and admired the idiocy that happens even when some reasonably smart people come together in large groups with conflicting interests. Multiplitaxion Inc, isn't real; and neither does it represent one single organization form my past; but the problem this fictional little organization faces are real. Very real.

Fred

To be honest Fred is not my brain child. He belongs to Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt who conceived the idea of Fred in their book The Pragmatic Programmer where they described Fred using a simple example:

Suppose Fred is given a programming assignment. Fred types in some code, tries it, and it seems to work. Fred types in some more code, tries it, and it still seems to work. After several weeks of coding this way, the program suddenly stops working, and after hours of trying to fix it, he still doesn't know why. Fred may well spend a significant amount of time chasing this piece of code around without ever being able to fix it. No matter what he does, it just doesn't ever seem to work right.

Fred doesn't know why the code is failing because he didn't know why it worked in the first place. It seemed to work, given the limited "testing" that Fred did, but that was just a coincidence. Buoyed by false confidence, Fred charged ahead into oblivion. Now, most intelligent people may know someone like Fred, but we know better. We don't rely on coincidences—do we?

I loved the idea of Fred and went ahead and said that there's a little bit of Fred in all of us. But then throughout my career I've also met perfect embodiments of Fred. This blog is not about criticizing Fred. Instead it's about analyzing what Mr. Fred does and learning from his stupid mistakes; but before we do that it's really important that we know Fred; which is why, dear reader, I present to you, Mr. Fred.

Fred, Meet the world. World, Meet Mr. Fred.

Jane and Jack

Jane and Jack are two programmers who are a pleasure to work with. They are not ‘perfect’ individuals; just highly reliable and consistent. Jane and Jack are people you can connect too. They are not very loud though. They enjoy talking to the compiler in the cozy corner of their office and are completely disinterested in office politics, moving on to management and leading others. If there is one thing they want to do, it is to ship remarkable code.

Pops

This one's not my brain child too. This is the brain child of Michael Lopp in his book Managing Humans where he referred to himself as Rands:

The icing on this semi-fictional cake is Rands. This is a name I began using in the mid-’90s for my virtual presence; when I began web-logging about management, the name stuck. Think of Rands as your semi-fictional guide walking you through the fake stories of fake people that have had incredible relevant (yet fake) experiences. Rands has a bit of attitude, but, then again, so do I.

I'm of Indian origin and I carry my Indian origin and accent rather well when I travel around a flat world. I'm definitely not an Indian call center employee with a thick Indian accent trying to assume an identity of 'Sam' or 'Harry' and making a fool of myself. My real name is Rajiv Popat and I have no complexes what-so-ever about that.

Pops however, is a rather funny identity which allows me to step out of myself to be just as critical of myself as I am of others including Fred. Then the idea of Pops is even more appealing when I go ahead and make random mistakes which, of course, I do all the time. I can blame it all on Pops. After all, it's not me making those stupid mistakes. It's Pops.

More Personas

Of course, Multiplitaxion Inc, Fred and Pops are a good starting point for story telling; but I do realize we'll need more characters as we move ahead. I'll be making changes to this post as I go ahead and introduce other characters in future.

Consider this page the Introduction to all of the characters that you'll meet in the stories about management and software development from Pops at ThousandtyOne.com.

Every time I want to go ahead and add a new character to the story I'll just go ahead and add him here. I know I'm not supposed to be going back and editing a post that has already been published, but it's not me who'll do that, remember? It's Pops. The guy just doesn't understand blogging rules all that well after-all.